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An American Crime (2007)

7.4
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Ratings: 7.4/10 from 20,409 users  
Reviews: 107 user | 51 critic

The true story of suburban housewife Gertrude Baniszewski, who kept a teenage girl locked in the basement of her Indiana home during the 1960s.

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Title: An American Crime (2007)

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Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 2 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
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Jennie Likens
...
Lester Likens
...
Betty Likens
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Paula Baniszewski
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Johnny Baniszewski
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Shirley Baniszewski (as Hannah Leigh Dworkin)
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Prosecutor
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Reverend Bill Collier
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Marie Baniszewski
...
Hope Orbach
Patricia Place ...
Mrs. Doyle
Calvin Keet ...
Mr. Doyle
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Storyline

Based on a true story that shocked the nation in 1965, the film recounts one of the most shocking crimes ever committed against a single victim. Sylvia and Jennie Fae Likens, the two daughters of traveling carnival workers are left for an extended stay at the Indianapolis home of single mother Gertrude Baniszewski and her six children. Times are tough, and Gertrude's financial needs cause her to make this arrangement before realizing how the burden will push her unstable nature to a breaking point. What transpires in the next three months is both riveting and horrific, leaving one child dead and the rest scarred for life. Written by alfiehitchie

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

The true story of a child's punishment that became a woman's crime. See more »

Genres:

Biography | Crime | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for strong and disturbing depiction of child abuse and torture | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

7 December 2007 (Sweden)  »

Also Known As:

The Basement  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office

Budget:

$2,000,000 (estimated)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Ellen Page was the only choice to play Sylvia Likens. See more »

Goofs

A Ford Maverick is seen parked outside the house. The Maverick was not introduced until 1969, four years after the events of the film. See more »

Quotes

Gertrude Baniszewski: [preparing to write the tattoo onto Sylvia's belly] Ricky... she came back from juvenile! Started stirring up trouble again... Johnny hold her!
Sylvia Likens: No, please, please!
Gertrude Baniszewski: Keep her still!
Marie Baniszewski: If you move, it'll only be messy.
Gertrude Baniszewski: [gives Marie a lighter and a safety pin] Light that.
Sylvia Likens: No! No! No! Please! No! No! Please! Please!
Gertrude Baniszewski: Stop it!
Shirley Baniszewski: You got it right, mama?
Gertrude Baniszewski: Make sure it's hot!
Sylvia Likens: I'm sorry! I'm sorry!
[...]
See more »

Crazy Credits

The final credit states "Sylvia Likens, 1949-1965". See more »

Connections

Referenced in The 66th Annual Golden Globe Awards (2009) See more »

Soundtracks

Baby, I'm Yours
Written by Van McCoy
Performed by Barbara Lewis
Couresty of Atlantic Recording Group
By Arrangement with Warner Music Group Film & TV Licensing
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

 
Shocking, Repulsive...and Fascinating
26 May 2008 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

AN American CRIME is a problematic little reenactment of a real criminal case of child abuse dating back to 1965. The story is horrifying and while the film places the facts in our faces, the impact of the film is out of focus. This is due to the script that elects to glaze over the motivational aspects of a brutal crime in favor of attempting to investigate fully the mindset of both the perpetrator and the victims. Were it not for some sterling performances by Catherine Keener and Ellen Page this film might be easily dismissed: the strength of these actresses to overcome a weak script and manage to involve us is much to their credit as artists.

Indiana, 1965, and Gertrude Baniszewski (Catherine Keener) is a 'borderline' single mother of several children who is asked to take care of Sylvia (Ellen Page) and Jennie Likens (Hayley McFarland) while the girls parents remain on the road as carnies, promising to send checks to help support their farmed out children. Gertrude is a woman of loose morals who adds babies to her large family during liaisons with young men like the itinerant Dennis (James Franco). Gertrude takes in laundry to support her household and requires her young children to work toward the same goal. A friction develops between Sylvia and Jenny and the children by Gertrude's illicit adventures as well as covert sexual similarities surfacing in her children and at 'family meetings' Gertrude doles out punishment for Sylvia - punishment including cigarette burns, coke bottle insertions, branding etc. - all of which are undeserved and eventually lead to Sylvia's imprisonment in the basement where Gertrude and her children and their friends daily torture Sylvia. Eventually Sylvia dies and Gertrude and family are brought to court for charges of first-degree murder and variations thereof. The court proceedings (under the leadership of lawyer Leroy K. New played by Bradley Whitford) provide the story drivers as each allegation is then acted out by flashbacks until the verdicts are reached.

Catherine Keener is superb as the deranged, maladaptive Gertrude and Ellen Page adds yet another feather to her cap in a role that in another actor's hands could have been over the top. Writer/director Tommy O'Haver (the script was written with the aid of Irene Turner) does manage to show us the facts of this atrocity yet fails to go inside the characters to give us the psychobiographies this film has the potential for illuminating. It may well repel some viewers, but it does bring to the forefront a crime that is all too common in this country.

Grady Harp


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